I think this is your first lesson in specs. They don't mean much. Your ears have to be the judge. I have the dynaudio C1's which don't look great on paper either but they sure do sound fine. I've never heard the Harbeths but I will say after the Dyns I personally don't think it gets a whole lot better.
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Well it is obvious that there is something special about Harbeth speakers despite less that ideal specs; I've said as much in my post above. The question is what is it exactly that makes them shine nonetheless? Perhaps the low sensitivity indeed doesn't mean much, especially if their impedance is stable, but you surely must agree that a frequency extension of 46Hz (7ES-3) or even 40Hz (Super HL-5) is far from what generally would be considered sufficient to hail a speaker as one to end the urge to upgrade, which I often hear when these particular Harbeth models are discussed.
It is called mid range. Some people hear it and some don't. Those who love mid range will hold dear the qualities of a speaker like Harbeth. Soundlabs are another example and Quad ESL 57's are an extreme example ( precious little else is good on these speakers but the mid range is exceptional ).
Unfortunately in all the pizazz and boom boom tizz of speaker performance, many people have lost the ability to hear timbre and a good mid range. Like an action movie junkie that lives for the next car chase or explosion, most audiophiles are chasing these extremes rather than paying attention to the quality and detail expressed in the cinematography.
If you have an ear for mid range quality then you cannot help but admire Harbeth. If you are unable to appreciate this then they are rather boring speakers...
I lived with a pair of Super HL5's and I am still haunted by what they did well. Here's my take.
For me it all comes down to what you value and listen to, and how you listen. If you find yourself listening to Black Sabbath, Nine Inch Nails, Radiohead HI don't think Harbeths are not going to be your speaker. If you value deep full bass more than anything else they are also not your speaker. If you value musicality and listen to more acoustic leaning music or jazz and female vocals, and you listen to this type of music more than anything else, I'm willing to wager you'll really like them. I used a VAC Avatar Super on them at 85 wpc and it was plenty.
In terms of build and design. I found them pleasantly understated. It was fun to watch people's mouths drop when they heard them expecting much less from their visual impressions. Another speaker that is somewhat similar and coincidentally garners the same sort of following is Audio Note. I think they have some similarities in their designs. I'm no speaker designer, or techno expert so I apologize if I don't explain this correctly. Both makers have basic uncomplicated cabinets and design around the cabinet resonances rather than trying to eliminate them. I found that to be very very appealing and gives music played through them an organic, and often real characteristic that made them intoxicating. Another might find it annoying, or a coloration and that's ok. For my listening habits and music it was excellent.
You should listen for yourself of course before buying, and it does take some time to "get it", but if you fit the profile you'll likely be on the payroll soon too. ;)
Many speaker designs look similar and in general sound more similar than not as well.
Harbeths are distinctive looking and sounding compared to most others these days as well from what I gather. They are also well made as best I can tell. So they have a distinctive identity among many quality products as a result to help distinguish them from the pack. That's a good thing in general for a product to have, even speakers, where it largely seems that many are chasing essentially the same goals in various subtly different ways.
Awesome post Mmike84. I too noticed the similarity to Audio Note, but shockingly to me, some of the more expensive Audio Note speakers go really low, which belies their appearance and size.
I also get the distinctive look argument, but in my humble opinion, it should only work against Harbeth as they look rather dated, especially with their grills on. Reminds me of old Advents.
I'd love to audition a pair of 7ES-3s, but it seems it's easier to find Harbeth lines online than in a brick and mortar dealer.
This is the most insidious marketing campaign I've ever seen. Actusreus (an anagram for "curates us") is clearly a plant for Harbeth or its U.S. distributor. "We don't do deep bass, we're inefficient, we're plain looking" -- but people just love us. HAH! It's like that Volvo ad where they said the car is ugly. Very clever, sophisticated even, but it's nothing more than a tease. Prove I'm wrong!
I owned the original M40 for several years and have heard most of the Harbeth models at length. I think the point about the midrange is correct. This is where they shine. There is a natural, dimensional and tonally correct quality to the mids of these speakers. It's very seductive. Having said that, there is, to my ears, a pervasive warmth coloration that many UK speakers seem to have. Some of the edge, clarity and reality of the music is slightly blunted. A politeness if you will. I think people that listen to a lot of small scale acoustic will be most happy with these. For similar money, Green Mountain Audio loudspeakers are (IMO) far superior. Disclosure: I sell 'em. Not bad mouthing Harbeth's, lots of folks love them and have found satisfaction.
(disclaimer: I've never seen a Harbeth up close,only
Since you did not say what you don't like about how they sound,I guess you have not heard them either.
Specs alone mean little. Few,if any speakers do everything
right for everybody. What most Harbeth owners agree is that what they do-they do very well. I am amazed at the detail
they reveal and the quality of vocals.
As for the low end,they are no slouches.
As for the"DIY" enclosure- the Rosewood finish on my "BBC LOOK" Harbeths is Jaguar quality.
One speaker that has reached cult like statis is the Harbeth
LS3/5a. Not wanting a 25 year old speaker at three times the price new,I bought a pair or P3ESR's here on the 'GON.
I'm a believer. I've always been a British speaker guy.
These might be the last speakers I buy for a real long time.
ACTUSREUS-go have yourself a listen.Forget the specs,
forget the looks-listen to the music.Be careful of the"spell"
I've owned lots and lots of speakers. I currently have five pairs, in fact, which is probably more than I need, but that's another story altogether. The ones I used to have that I miss the most -- and began to miss the minute I sold them -- were a pair of Celestion SL600s. They were inn efficient as hell, didn't go low at all, couldn't play loud -- and they were pure magic. As Shadorne says above, it's the midrange. That's where most music happens -- the human voice, all but the extreme notes on a piano, your normally tuned guitar -- and when you find a pair of speakers that can get the mids right on the button, you've got speakers to love. And to hang onto, too, unless you want to keep looking back on them -- fondly, longingly, lustily, even -- like you might an old, lost girlfriend.
I'm always amused when I hear the "conventional wisdom" that Harbeth speakers are only for British grandmas listening to chamber quartets. Some of the most exciting and memorable music I have ever heard was the Rolling Stones played on a Naim/Harbeth Compact 7ES-3 combo.
I could name a dozen speakers over $10K I have heard at CES that aren't nearly as musical or engaging.
Harbeth has a musicality about them that is hard to pinpoint - it is the sum of good engineering and know-how, coupled with a critical ear for musicality by the designer. The mid-bass units (radial drivers) are propriety and are based on internal r&d. Part of their magic lies here. In addition, they are designed to get human voicing correct and, are outstanding monitor speakers (who have a somewhat restricted LF).
Although the cabinets look retro and dated (which I like), I never thought they were cheap. Again, there is a design philosophy behind them.
Admittedly, Harbeth loudspeakers are not perfect nor everyones' cup to tea (from the sonics to the looks). But they get most things remarkably right when it comes to musical enjoyment and have a loyal fan base. Plus, they are reasonably priced when one compares to what else is out there in the sub -5k range (excluding the M40s).
my 2c worth based of my experience with my M30's.
Onhwy61, check my threads and posts on A-gon and it will become obvious I'm not a "plant." Unless you were being facetious.
Dobieguy, no I haven't heard any of the Harbeth speakers but I'd love to. Please note that I did not start the thread as a skeptic or trying to disparage Harbeth or question their following. I was genuinely curious what made these speakers stand above the competition and cause so many audiophiles to be so in love with them without all the top specs that speakers ranked so highly typically display on paper. Through so many interesting responses, I think I'm beginning to understand what it is.
Mmike84's comments mimic my feelings on the subject.
Most of my time as an audiophile has been spent with Dynaudio speakers,
including the C2's & C4's, both of which are exceptional. However, I found
myself tiring of having to crank up the volume to get the Dyn's to sound their
So, I sold my C4's for the less expensive Harbeth M-40.1's on a whim, as I had
never seen or heard them. I've found the Harbeth's to be more musical (albeit
less exciting than the C4's)... and to me, the 40.1's are more satisfying & sound
great at low to moderate volume levels. Great bass, midrange and fatigue free
highs... and the flat impedance curve makes them easy to drive with a 75 WPC
YMMV, as it all comes down to personal taste.
Musical. How do you measure musical?
Speakers that measure flat and neutral do not sound musical, people are not attached to them. Speakers with personality like Harbeth and Sonus Faber leave people mesmorized even though they are far from neutral.
Wilson, YG Acoustic, and others go to great length to minimize cabinets vibration because cabinets should not have a sound. And Harbeth's cabinets do what?
Magical midrange, I know lots of speakers that do magical midrange and still relatively neutral. You can have your cake and eat it too.
Here's how I measure musical. Speakers that make me quit analyzing the sound. I bought more music in the 2 months I borrowed them, than I had bought in the previous 6 months. I simply quit analyzing and listened, and for the record the Harbeths are the only speaker I've ever had in my living room that did that to me.
And I don't think neutral has to be the way. There are more roads that can achieve the same general goal. I've owned some designs you would call neutral, and while they were all more dynamic, eventually they left me bored. The Harbeths did not. I still miss them. If the were efficient enough I could run them on 8 wpc I'd probably have bought a pair of 12.1's.
This hobby is about enjoyment, and they offered that to me.
Their sensitivity of generally around the 86dB mark makes them rather inefficient and therefore, at least in theory, not a good match for many lower powered tube amps, or any amps below 100wpc. Their frequency range is simply inferior to most high-end speakers since they don't go below 40 Hz.Disclaimer - I have Spendors, not Harbeths. But they are from the same BBC lineage.
Try this perspective; the vast majority of natural musical sounds we hear are in the midrange, and they are not super loud. The fundamentals of the human voice primarily reside in frequency range of roughly 100 Hz to not much more than 1,000 Hz. Very few instruments have fundamentals above 4,000 or 5,000 Hz.
Everything above that is pretty much harmonics. These are certainly important, but if you don't have the critical midrange right, then all the bass, upper highs and extra volume won't fix the lack of naturalness.
Speakers are like any other product. Think of the old debates between car owners. Some people like the power and acceleration of an old school muscle car and others are more taken by the nimble suspension of a road-tuned sports car. Each group likes what they like and no amount of rationalization from the other side is going to change their minds.
The only thing you can do is listen to a set of Harbeths and see what they do for you. You may be enchanted, and then again, you may not.
Sorry I did not see your post.
FWIW the M40.1 is really rather uninspiring - even Stereophile did not take much of a shine to it. The compact 7 and SHL5 are way better in the mids - these are the models that people seem to get excited about.
Harbeths need to be brought forward and listened to from near field. The radial driver is very clean with great clarity in the mid range. I think pretty much everyone agrees on that.
As an amatuer speaker builder I have come to the conclusion that Harbeths are the anti-Magico. The later are rigid and resonance free to the exxtreme - flat frequency curves, nuetral, nothing but the facts Ma'am wraped in a magnificent wood and aluminum wrapper. Harbeths are generally designed to work with well tuned and a bit frumpy cabinets to achieve a more euphonious mid range and pleasing harmonics. I like both speaker lines, but try to emulate the Harbeth approach in my designs because, I guess ultimately, I like 'em better. I also appreciate earlier sonic comparison with Sonus Faber's - Harbeth's sexy Italian cousins.
I think the only Harbeth phenomenon is in some peoples minds. I have only heard them on two occasions (40 and 40.1) and they were good but not great for me. If you dig a little deeper you will find many speakers that are as musical and more. I think the 'phenomenon' may have more to do with the longevity and size of the company.
my two cents...
There are other fine loudspeakers which are as musically enjoyable as the Harbeths and perhaps do some things better.
I currently own an earlier generation of the Verity Parsifals, which replaced my previous Harbeth M30s that I described above. The two are not directly comparable as they are of different design philosophies and price points- one is a rather large 2-way monitor, the other a full range 3-way design. Interestingly, my wife still prefers the Harbeths when listening to the vocals of Maria Callas or Diana Krall. Overall I prefer the Veritys, but the two share many sonic similarities (e.g. beautiful vocals and midrange magic) that ultimately translates to pure musical enjoyment.
Anyway, there are many fine loudspeaker choices. Your ears are usually the final decider (and your wallet).
Everybody has their own favourite speakers. Those who like (or own) certain speakers will inevitably sing praises on them while those who dislike a few others will criticize them, or keep quiet. Nothing unusual. I have close friends who tell me straight to the face that Harbeths are not their cup of tea. Not a big deal and most of the posts above have described it well enough.
Most good words on Harbeth are from owners and music lovers and I don't think it has got anything to do with the company employing some people in boosting their sales. It is either you love the speakers or hate it, simple as that. Reviewers may have certain agenda though.
There are many other speakers that get the same sort of attention in the forums, and I wonder why Harbeth was picked.
Are any of you using the SHL5 for watching movies in 2-channel ? how do they fare?I am using the SHL5 for both but have to admit the speakers get very limited prime time as 95% of the time they were used in 2-channel listening.
I have never heard them but I have read most of what is posted. I have made no effort to go hear them because I know they are not for me. I tend to like ultra detailed balanced speakers. Detailed speakers can also have good tone...
I think the key in this hobby is knowing what you like. I am sure Harbeths are great speakers for many people that like a soft highs and a speaker with a little romance than still gets midrange tone right.
My only really issues with them (on paper) is in the day of computer modeling they do not take simple box diffraction into account. But they use a reversed roll surround driver (much like Thiel and others) to reduce standing waves in the drivers... I don't get how you could go through the effort of making/buying great drivers and using a so so box.
All of this is speculation of course because I have never heard them.
How would you describe the differences between the M30s and HL5s? I did here the M40s, and at least in that room with Mac gear, it just seemed like too much bass, they might have needed a bigger room to be balanced. Another think I have noticed is the number of people that like Harbeth, Verity, and Merlin - they have something in common and it must be the mid-range.
That bogus 'review' was discussed at length in the Harbeth User Group (HUG) Forum. I can't find the link, but if I remember correctly, it was an unauthorized review by a casual listener, based upon a pair of Monitor 30s that were purchased used.
In response to the OP, perhaps you should post your question(s) to the HUG Forum. The owner/designer Alan Shaw personally responds to inquiries, and he always welcomes technical questions. At the very least, it makes for an interesting read.
The previous responses have captured Harbeth's design philosophy quite well. I would only add that each model in the Harbeth line has its own sonic characteristics. This is due, in part, to the design objectives that are specific to each model.
I have read this review.In some aspects the writter is right,i know why:)I felt the same when I heard for the first time music playing through my SHL5.I was preperad for that.Why?because speakers were new,just right out the box (wonderfull smell of new speakers mixed with paint and wood aroma).Every speaker needs time to play in,find right place in the room,every speaker tends play some music better than others....and we do have keep in mind that amplifier match is important here even with the Harbeths.How did i find Harbeths? I wrotte in google search "warm sounding speakers" and this brought me to the these speakers,many people pointed out:)I even listen dance music through them.Today I played "Chicane-wake up" song many times,I can't remember how many times,may be more than 20:)Clarity mixed with warm sound:)I am fascinated by vocals ,guitar,piano reproductions and the whole musicality of the the speakers.Voices of angels.I never heard angels singing,but that how i feel listening to it,that is it what makes emotional impact on me and my soul ,on my mood:)
Shadorne - You commented...
"FWIW the M40.1 is really rather uninspiring - even Stereophile did not take much of a shine to it."
Not sure if that's a fair statement. Stereophile rated it Class A... and both Art Dudley and Sam Tellig's comments where quite favorable, with only John Atkinson dissenting, complaining of excessive bass and the need to use it in a larger room.
The Absolute Sound praised the M-40.1 extensively and awarded it their Golden Ear Award.
The speaker is a proven winner... maybe not everyone's cup of tea when it comes to aesthetics, and it does not have the audiophile "wow" factor that some are always seeking, but find hard to nail down.
Agreed. It is primarily the dispersion that JA is uncomofortable with and the "untidiness at 800 Hz". (I think he is perhaps suggesting woofer breakup might be occuring at audible levels arpund 800 Hz - only down 24 db - a more aggresive x-over slope could eliminate that - although this may give added warmth particularly on male vocals)
James63 wrote: "I don't get how you could go through the effort of making/buying great drivers and using a so so box."
If I can hazard a guess as to the direction you're coming from, there are two broad categories when it comes to speaker cabinets.
One is the Harbeth/Spendor/BBC approach which acknowledges the existence of the back wave of the speaker cone and sets out to do something to help dissipate it. Their practice is to make a very carefully crafted "lossy" cabinet that acts as a "crumple zone" would in a car crash to absorb a lot of that energy. The energy that is absorbed by the cabinet reduces the amount radiated into the room at frequencies where the ear is most sensitive.
The opposite approach is to make an ultra rigid cabinet. The one drawback to this approach is the speaker cone still produces a rear wave. This energy does not magically go away by itself. If the speaker designer doesn't do something with it, you can find that energy re-radiated back into the room through the driver's cone. Energy in the lower voice range is not well absorbed just by speaker stuffing so the designer has to think of other things to do with it.
Each approach - and the variants in between as well as dipole and other boxless designs - has its following, just like car enthusiasts or the subgroups that develop in any other hobby.
However, calling the Harbeth a "so-so box" ignores the extensive effort that went into the speaker as well as the philosophy behind it. It would be just as easy to look at any of the tall, narrow speakers that are popular these days and insulting their designers for complicating the baffle step effect for the sake of furniture fashion.
This is a fascinating discussion and I thank all who have contributed to this enlightening exchange. Someone commented that many a speaker gets similar attention in the forums, and wondered why Harbeth was singled out thus implying there is no reason for this distinction. Insofar as I agree with the former, I respectfully disagree with the latter. I don't know of any other speaker whose owners talk about angels singing through it and seem to have such close connection with it. Perhaps a Harbeth appeals to the type of people who are more emotional than most and romanticize sound more than most, rather than creates this type of emotion to begin with. Either way, this thread indicates to me that Harbeth indeed is a different breed of speaker and I'm looking forward to auditioning a pair soon.
Awesome thread guys. Thank you!
OHM speakers (www.ohmspeakers.com) have a unique and large scale following as well, both in and out of the high end niche. Distinctive sound and design, high value, the same basic approach more or less for about 40 years now, and outstanding customer service, which always helps. I've stuck with them for over 30 years and am still content.
Their older conventional box designs like the Es, Ls, C2s, and Hs refurbished from the factory, could make for a lower cost alternative to Harbeth to consider. They are made in the USA in Brooklyn, NY as well.
I see your comments on the box design and you have a valid point that a lot of thought went into the box design. Again I have never heard them but the problem with the absorption method is that it will only work at certain frequencies.
But I was really just commenting on the very wide boxy shape that will definitely lead to a lot of unwanted diffraction and poor off axis tonal balance. The wide front baffle will lead to beaming at high frequencies and the Harbeths are wide enough (larger models) that the beaming effect could even reach down into the midrange.
But don't take my word for it I am no expert by any means. You can see in the Stereophile lateral response graph the the off axis response is very poor. This would make them very hard to work into my narrow (12X20) room where I get a lot of side wall energy.
Again I have never heard them but the problem with the absorption method is that it will only work at certain frequencies.And the frequencies it does work well at are the frequencies where human hearing is most sensitive.
You forgot to address the point that with rigid wall speaker cabinets, the rear wave simply doesn't magically go away. Your re-radiation problem is still there - it has simply been moved to a different spot.
From a historical standpoint, keep in mind this cabinet type was designed by the BBC for monitoring purposes. There was a lot of reasoned thought and study that went into them by a group of very talented designers whose primary goal was to give the recording engineers an honest representation of their work.
Keep in mind that every choice one makes in engineering any product involves a compromise. When one addresses one problem, there is always another one created. The question is which of the issues is less a problem?
The wide baffle is a good example. A wide baffle can help move the step effect away from an area where hearing is sensitive. Robert E. Greene has discussed the technical aspects of this in great detail in various articles and on his web site. Narrow speakers may solve one issue, but they increase problems in an area where hearing is sensitive.
Same thing with off axis frequency response. This can actually increase problems in a reflective room situation since wide dispersion increases the ratio of reflected energy to direct arrival sound. This can cause smearing problems of its own. The BBC design philosophy is intentionally not interested in a lot of off-axis energy in the higher frequencies.
Again, that is a conscious design decision.
Many people would think such a speaker would work better in your room than a model with wide dispersion at higher frequencies.
The crux of the matter is that different professionals can have legitimate disagreements as to what issue is more important for any given design aspect. You may not agree with their choice but that's fine. Just don't think that wide baffle was some careless and arbitrary choice made by someone who didn't know what they were doing.
I just finished a short listening session of Michael Feinstein with a solo piano singing some Jerry Herman material. I have Spendor SP1/2Es. It would be hard for me to imagine a more natural presentation of this recording than what I heard. So, for whatever design flaws you consider the classic BBC design to have, it works for me. ;-)
This is an interesting thread, many of you out there will have a problem with my two cents worth, but here it goes:
I'm not saying this to sound superior, but I have the blessing of being a professional musician. I teach music all day, five days a week, and am performing or rehearsing with a variety of musical groups most days of the week (I'm a trombonist, and you don't get paid by anyone to play this instrument if you don't have a very discerning ear-I've been blessed with this as well). The point I'm trying to make here is that I'm exposed to the sounds of real musical instruments all day, every day, and my Harbeth speakers (Compact 7 ES-2's and Monitor 30's) reproduce the subtleties of these sounds as well as anything I've heard.
I'm a member of the Harbeth User Group, and I get the impression that many of the folks who own these speakers attend live musical events on a regular basis and are very familiar with the sound of real instruments being played in a real acoustical space-they fall into the category of music lovers. The other broad category of folks who are into this hobby are audiophiles, and hey, there's nothing wrong with this at all. Here we have people who enjoy listening for the differences between various pieces of gear, playing around with cables, etc. If this brings you enjoyment and relaxation, go for it! Harberth speakers, however, may not do it for you. I've found that these speakers sound great with low powered tube amps, high powered tube amps, low powered solid state. I often have my Monitor 30's (85 dB sensitivity) hooked up to a 12 watt Aleph clone Class A solid state amp and the sound is glorious. The speakers sound good with a variety of relatively inexpensive wires-so I'm just not thinking about this stuff anymore, I'm just enjoying the music.
Harbeths are for people who have more going on in their lives than just audio and they'll allow you to get off the audiophile merry-go-round, if that's where you'd like to go. If I could do it all over again, I'd dump 80% of my money into a pair of Monitor 40's and use the rest for source and amplification-this sounds crazy, but trust me, it would work.
If you've not heard these speakers, ignore the specs, ignore the box (which, by the way, is highly engineered)and check them out if you can find them. Take them home for a trial, if possible. You may find that the entire way you think about audio and listening to music will change dramatically.
"I'm not saying this to sound superior."
All respect, but as I'm sure you anticipated, you handsomely succeeded in doing so.
You do raise some interesting issues, though. I'm shopping for a flat screen TV to watch sports. Will LeBron James or Paul Pierce give me better advice on which equipment to buy?